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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The real reasons you have migraines — and what to do about it

1. Food. Food triggers are one of the main causes for migraines. But it's not just smoked cheeses, chocolate, and wine like most people think. It may actually be some of the "healthiest" foods in your diet. These are the top 7 food offenders for many conditions, including migraines:


The best way to find out if a specific food is the source of your migraines is to do an elimination/provocation diet. By working with a nutrition-trained physician who understands the association between food and migraines, you would be guided to avoid potential food triggers for 2-4 weeks and then slowly re-introduce each food one at a time with careful tracking by you and your physician.

2. Estrogen dominance. A hormonal imbalance is a common reason why women suffer from migraines. Here's why: During the first half of a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen runs the show. By the second half, both estrogen and progesterone are equally active. Then, seven days before a period, progesterone levels drop and the menstrual cycle begins. These last seven days of the cycle are the classic PMS phase.

Today, many women already have too much estrogen and that 7-day progesterone drop creates an even more drastic estrogen dominance. This exaggerated estrogen dominance is what actually triggers the PMS phase, menstrual migraine.

Shocking to most, estrogen dominance can affect both menstruating women and those in menopause. While most women think they have too little estrogen, and seek out hormone replacement during menopause, the truth is, a person's extra weight (especially belly fat) at any time in her life can produce unhealthy, high estrogen levels that can then kick off a hormonal migraine.

Unfortunately, there are even more sources of estrogen in our daily lives besides excess weight. Conventional farms rely on giving growth hormones to their livestock to increase their muscle mass or increase milk production. Then, we ingest these hormones when we eat meat and dairy products. So it's best to eat free range, grass-fed, cage-free, happy, clean animal protein and dairy whenever possible to reduce your hormone loads.

Another cause of estrogen dominance is the environment. Xenoestrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body) are found in many of our daily convenience products we come in contact with including plastic containers, cosmetics, consumer products and household cleaners. Be mindful that all of this adds to your body's total estrogen burden.

3. Constipation. In order for estrogen to leave the body, it has to be metabolized by the liver, sent to the colon, and eliminated. If you're not having normal, healthy bowel movements, 1 to 3 times a day, estrogen can be re-absorbed into the bloodstream, and over time, your estrogen levels builds up.

Although fiber-rich foods and plenty of water can help keep your bowel movements regular, you still need the liver to do its job of preparing the estrogen for elimination. Various supplements including vitamins, botanicals, and herbs assist the liver and colon in getting rid of estrogen in the right way. It's important to note that estrogen can choose a more harmful route out of the body or a safer pathway. The negative path is implicated in several types of cancer, so it's critical to work with a functional medicine physician. With a thorough understanding of hormones and their metabolism (beyond just hormone replacement), she can test for and improve your hormone balance thereby helping you prevent your migraines and other riskier estrogen-related conditions like cancer and stroke.

4. A tension headache. If you suffer from this other common type of headache (commonly described as a vice-like headache), it may also be a reversible trigger of your migraines. By optimizing levels of magnesium (Mother Nature's muscle-relaxing mineral) the muscles in your neck will soften and thus prevent tension headaches that triggers the migraine. Interestingly enough, although we are meant to have healthy levels of magnesium in our body, a staggering 68% of Americans don't consume enough of it in their diets.

Magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy green vegetables, bananas, avocados, nuts, seeds, peas, beans, legumes, and whole grains can help you get your levels up. You may still need a magnesium supplement, but work with a knowledgeable physician to guide you on which type and how much based on your specific needs and kidney status.


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